RAZORED ZEN

Thursday, July 02, 2015

JUDGING BOOKS BY THEIR LENGTH


I’d finished a book the other day and only had one book going. Since I generally like reading at least two at a time, I started scanning my TBR shelves for my next read. A book that I’ve had for a couple of years caught my eye. I’d read other things by the author and liked them, and this one had an intriguing title. Then a thought struck me: “It’s awfully long.” I passed it by.

Something similar occurred a couple of months ago. One of my colleagues at Xavier was reading book three of A Song of Ice and Fire. That’s Game of Thrones for you TV viewers. I’d been watching the TV show myself and much enjoying it. I’d decided I wanted to read the books. But there stood my friend with a serious doorstop in his hands. It’s over 1200 pages. And that is one of a bunch in the series. I thought to myself, “I have not the strength.”

I’ve never been one to judge a book by its cover. In fact, I notice covers only in passing. But I’ve been aware for maybe a decade now that I’m becoming increasingly reluctant to start “big” books. Increasingly reluctant is the operative term. I used to read Stephen King novels. Not anymore. I used to read long-assed thrillers. Not anymore. Even if I love you, I’m just not going to read your 800 page opus. Or even your 600 page one. And probably not your 500 page one.

400 pages appears to be about my cutoff these days, but the book I rejected this morning for being too long was only around 380. My ideal length for a book that I’m about to invest my time in is between 185 and 250 pages. I’ll pretty readily go 300, especially for a thriller. But 350 is starting to push it.

I guess the question is, why am I becoming this way?  I have some thoughts, of course. First, I’m 56 and quite aware that I’m likely never to get all the books read I’d like to read. Five of my preferred size books would equal one Game of Thrones tome. Do I want to read a 1200 pager by George R. R. Martin, or would I rather read five other books by the likes of James Reasoner, E. C. Tubb, Joe Lansdale, Poul Anderson, and O’Neil De Noux? Five wins.

Second, I started out writing short stories mostly so I had very little idea how long novels needed to be. But I’ve written a number of novel length projects by now and I’ve never found the need to go beyond about 350 pages. I can’t even imagine how much padding I’d have to include to push one of my Taleran books to 1000 pages. They average a little over 200. And in almost every long book I’ve ever read, I’ve found what seemed to be padding. As a writer, I just don’t think one story in a million needs great length to be told effectively. In fact, padding a work is the opposite of being effective. Maybe once in a while a story really needs to be that long—once in a long, long while.

So what about you? Do you love big thick tomes heavily marbled with fat? Or would you prefer a leaner cut of meat? What is your ideal length for a novel?

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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Series Character, Part 1

When I was a kid I think my favorite kind of reading was the "series." John Carter of Mars, Conan, Travis McGee, The Sacketts, the Black Stallion, The Three Investigators, The Hardy Boys, etc, etc. When I first started writing, and started thinking about a novel, I immediately thought "series." My first western, the unpublished "The Bear Paw Valley," was conceived as an introduction for the gunfighter character of Quint Maclang. He was modeled quite a bit on the youngest of the Sackett brothers, Tyrell. Well, I was the youngest of brothers so why not?

The "Maclang" western series never got off the ground, but the Maclang fantasy series did. I've now written four books about Ruenn Maclang, who would be Quint Maclang's nephew. Three of these have been published and a fourth is supposedly scheduled for it. I'm about 33,000 words into book 5, which will be the last one for a while, I think.

One thing I've started worrying about is repeating myself. The first book, Swords of Talera, was an introduction, and then books 2 and 3, Wings Over Talera, and Witch of Talera, dealt with a war against a sorceress named Vohanna. Books 4 and 5, Wraith of Talera, and Gods of Talera, deal with another war against a sorcerer named Vessoth, who was Vohanna's husband. There's a lot of new adventures in the 4th and 5th books, but there is some commonality as well.

As I was thinking about this the last few days, I stumbled on a link to a blog where John D. MacDonald is talking about writing Travis McGee. I'm reading this closely and giving it some thought. He certainly knew the pitfalls and promise of the series character. One thing I found interesting was that he said it was harder to write first person stories than third person ones. I don't know. It doesn't really seem that way to me. The restrictions of the first person tale help me quite a lot, I think.

Anyway, I'm going to have more about writing a series character as I give it more thought. As readers, are you a big fan of series? Or would you prefer stand alones? For those who read series, do you commonly find that the formula starts to pale after a while?

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Friday, June 26, 2015

PEDESTAL MAGAZINE, 76, REVIEW


As I mentioned in my last post, Pedestal Magazine, Issue 76, is available. It was published June 22, 2015. I have a piece in it called “Gaunt,” which is about the creature I consider to be my muse. When I first got access to the magazine, I posted about its availability on my blog. Then I began reading the other poems and was blown away. I realized I wanted to do a longer post and review. This is one of the best collections from varied poets that I’ve ever read, and I feel very lucky to have my piece in this mix. Bruce Boston and Marge Simon, who served as editors for this particular issue, deserve a lot of credit. I don’t normally do reviews of magazines like this but felt compelled to in this case. Here are my capsule thoughts on the poems, without any spoilers: 

1. Lewis Carroll Knew My Family: A Series, Diana Smith Bolton: The Red Queen, The White Rabbit, The Cheshire Cat. They’re all here. Alice’s Adventures are such surreal works in their own right, and here we have the surrealistic elements taken to another level. The resonance here is intense.

2. Miracles, Ken Poyner: Genetics gone wild. This is a poem of ideas, touching on one of the biggest scientific advances of our age.

3. Critique of Car Accident Art Museum, Ross Wilcox: The melding of the machine and human. The stanzas consist of “exhibits” described. Each alters your reality a little further.

4. Lunar Eclipse by the Chitose River, December 10, 2011, Stephen Toskar: My favorite poetry often revels in contrast. Here we have such contrasts as warmth and cold, sex and fear. The last stanza is perhaps my favorite in the collection. I won’t quote it; you have to read it with all that’s gone before.

5. And Then the Stars… Mack W. Mani: Very grounded piece. A poem about reality, though it has the stars. Lots of subtext. I’m sure I didn’t catch it all.

6. Time Capsule, Rose Blackthorn: What comes after. The post-apocalyptic world as a time capsule.

7. Tourists Do Not Touch the God, Andrew Pidoux: What happens when even the Gods grow old. I liked the humorous images in this.

8. Venetian Red (for Michael Nathan), Steven Ratiner: Images of the old world’s beauty. An invocation to a past age, and a present.

9. Tether, Christina Zawadiwsky: a free for all of beautiful images and thoughts. Not quite free association. A stream of resonant consciousness. Perhaps my overall favorite of the pieces, although my favorite also seems to change with every reading of these works.

10. Gaunt, Charles Gramlich: The shortest poem in the mag.

11. The Dark Side of The Force in Relation to Art (Remarks by Lord Vader), Frederick Pollack: If Lord Vader gave a commencement address, what might he say?

12. Whatever Happened to Scott Carey?, Richard Bruns: Metamorphosis. Why me? Why not you?

13. Selenites, John Philip Johnson: How many will know that word, “Selenites.” I know it. So alien this piece, and yet familiar to us from the history of philosophy.

14. Crow Mother (for Frida Kahlo), Linda Rodriguez: The juxtaposition of beauty and the grotesque. Great fun to read aloud.

15. Schizophrenic Conversation at the Four Winds Bar: A Poem of Blues-Rock Numbers, and Crap-Game Numerology, Fred R. Kane: Reads like your favorite drunken night in an old blues bar. It happened, if only you could remember more than snatches. At the right moment, this one could be my favorite too.

16. Analog Reincarnation, Gary Singh: Life captured by a camera, and then by words. We step back two paces from reality to get a better view.

17. The Alien Ruins, Daniel Ausema: My favorite title. It already evokes my imagination. What will we find when we first make contact? A living race, or a lost one? And how will we come to know them?

18. Copernicus, Dane Cervine: Life and death and wonder.

19. Flyology, Gabrielle Bates: A feeling of lightness of being comes through in this one. Sometimes this is my favorite. The language flows so smoothly.

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Thursday, June 25, 2015

Pedestal Magazine

Pedestal Magazine #76 is up, and I’m very honored to have a poem in the magazine. My piece is called “Gaunt,” a poem I wrote a couple of years back about how I see my literary muse. As I’ve been reading through the other wonderful works in this issue, I feel very lucky to have had a piece chosen for this company. I’m really blown away by the depth of language and emotion shown. You can check out the issue here.

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Friday, June 19, 2015

Harvest of War, A Little Experiment

Sales of all my own Amazon titles had been decidedly low and flat for some time so I thought I'd try to shake things up with a free promotion. I made my fantasy story, "Harvest of War," free for three days, July 15-17. It's still too early to tell much probably but here's a quick synopsis of the results so far.

I gave away 87 free copies. I also gave away one PDF copy that someone on Goodreads requested from me. I had made this story free back when it was first published in 2012 and it moved a 'lot' more copies, but 87 is respectable I suppose. And maybe quite a few folks already had it. I promoted it on facebook and Goodreads. It reached its highest ranking at about 11 hours in on the giveaway, but about four hours after I started promoting it. Here are the numbers:

At 11:45: #2,745 Free in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Free in Kindle Store)
#4 in Kindle Store > Kindle Short Reads > 45 minutes (22-32 pages) > Science Fiction & Fantasy
#13 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Fantasy > Anthologies & Short Stories

As of today, June 19, I've gotten one additional sale on the title, but it came at the end of the free promotion period and, quite likely, the person thought it was still free and clicked buy before seeing the .99 cent price had returned. Sorry about that. There have been no additional sales on any of my other titles so far, but many who downloaded "Harvest" have probably not read it yet. It did look like the numbers on Swords of Talera dipped so someone may have picked that up, though whether it had anything to do with the promotion I don't know. 

I was/am also hoping for some reviews on the story and the first one came in this morning from Prashant over at Chess, Comics, Crosswords. It's a very good one and I'm really happy Prashant enjoyed the tale. At the heart of why I write is to tell stories that I love and that others love too. It's gratifying when you hear that it has worked, and particularly gratifying to make that connection with someone in another part of the world. Thanks very much to Prashant for his great review!

At some point in a couple of weeks, I'll have another post on this to see if any new developments have occurred. In the meantime, happy reading. 

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Sunday, June 14, 2015

Heroika: Dragon Eaters Review

Heroika 1: Dragon Eaters, Edited by Janet Morris

I first became familiar with Janet Morris through her stories in the Thieves’ World Series. Morris generally wrote my favorite stories throughout that series, and when her characters from there, “Tempus” and “Niko,” appeared in several spinoff novels I also read and enjoyed those. So, when I heard of a new fantasy anthology edited by Morris, I quickly picked it up.

In Heroika: Dragon Eaters, Morris has put together seventeen short stories that all feature dragons and some aspect of dragon consumption. There are all manner of tales here, including many that use the kind of fantasy setting one might imagine, as well as others set during the Civil War, in the swamps of Louisiana, on a modern earth, and in a post-apocalyptic world.


This is a big book, chock full of stories. I read the kindle version but the paperback is apparently 436 pages. That means plenty of bang for the buck. The stories are also uniformly well done. The biggest names are Janet and Chris Morris, who have two pieces in the book. Most of the other writers are not household names but are definitely experienced and talented writers. I’d read and enjoyed material by such authors as S. E. Lindberg, Walter Rhein, and Mark Finn, and had heard of some of the others although their writing was new to me. I’m not going to do a detailed review of the stories because I don’t want to give things away. Here are some capsule comments about things that I found particularly memorable.

“The First Dragon Eater,” by Janet and Chris Morris has an interesting structure that reminds one of the ancient Eddas.

“Legacy of the Great Dragon” by S. E. Lindberg is set in an ancient Egypt where the gods are real. Great atmosphere and characters in this one.

“Bring Your Rage,” by Janet and Chris Morris has some beautiful writing in it: “When I first saw Rhesos, he came riding a horse white as sunlight, a black dog at its heels…” Also very interesting characters.

“Aquila of Oyos,” by Walter Rhein features the Dragon’s point-of-view, and has a nice twist featuring a second dragon.

“The Wyght Wyrm,” by Cas Peace takes us to the age of Stonehenge and the Druids. Great setting.

“The Old Man on a Mountain,” by Jack William Finley features an aging warrior on his last dragon hunt. You really feel a lot of empathy for this character and his suffering.

“Of Blood and Scales,” by A. L. Butcher. I liked the concept of the “bloodsister.”

“Night Stalkers,” by Travis Ludvigson takes place in the time of Charlemagne and features Roland in a “northern thing” adventure.

“Forged,” by Tom Barczak features a nice surprise before you see the dragon.

“The Rhyme of the Dragon Queen,” by JP Wilder has a great cadre of heroes and rogues, including Spera, an excellent female character.

“The Dragon’s Horde,” by Joe Bonadonna. There’s a lot of creativity in this tale and a very interesting twist on who the villains are.

“Wawindaji Joka,” by Milton Davis. Great character conflict in this one. Jimbia is an excellent character and shows some interesting development.

“Against the Sky Tomb of the Earth Kings” by M. Harold Page wins for best title. Great inventiveness and action here.

“Red Rain,” by William Hiles. Here we have a dragon appearing during the Civil War, and Union and Confederates must join forces against it. A lot of emotional intensity in this one and I’d have to say it was my favorite piece in the anthology.

“La Betaille,” by Beth W. Patterson featured the youngest hero and I loved the details of the swamplands and the people who live there.

“Arctic Rage,” by Bruce Durham features a kind of “Alien” and “The Thing” riff in a post-apocalyptic world.

“Sic Semper Draconis,” by Mark Finn was full of action. Reminded me a bit of David Drake. 

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